Challenging Ourselves And Others
By T. Perry Bowers
This hunting season I’ve been asked to lead a group of hunters. It’s strange for me because I am a relatively new hunter myself. I’ve managed to kill some deer and I was able to harvest a mature buck this year. But, to be honest, it’s mostly been pure luck and sheer will.
I am good at challenging myself. I’ve achieved a brown belt in Aikido (my goal is black). I learned to play guitar at an older age. I play drums regularly. I try to shoot my bow every day. I meditate every day and I write this blog almost every morning at six am. I’m not telling you this to brag, but it’s normal for me to hold myself to a high standard.
Despite this, it’s not easy for me to hold other people to a high standard. Ever since I was a little boy, I have been sensitive to other people’s feelings. I’m very intuitive when it comes to reading people’s boundaries and I tend to err on the side of not hurting anyone.
In business, I’ve had to learn to say things to people that might hurt their feelings. Everyone has different sensitivities and no matter how intuitive you are, you can never avoid other’s feelings altogether. To run a business effectively, you have to be willing to risk hurting your employee’s feelings.
Recently an employee of mine made some decisions that led to him quitting but he wanted to stay part-time. I couldn’t keep him on part-time, because I needed to give my new employee all of the hours available. The employee leaving was hurt by this — he became disgruntled. His last week on the job was not a stellar performance on his part.
I understand — we are emotional creatures. We rate our experience in life by the quality of our emotions. If we’re having a bad day, it’s probably because we experienced sadness, anger, fatigue, etc. As a leader, sometimes we need to be willing to be the cause of those “negative” emotions.
On the positive side, uncomfortable emotions often lead to growth. December is late-season hunting in Minnesota. Sitting in a tree stand for long periods is not pleasant. I know I need to be willing to suffer the cold if I want to fill my tag. Perseverance through hard times is the only way to succeed in hunting — and life.
If you have employees or people under your tutelage who always take the easy way out, challenge them to grow and be stronger. I’ve had employees who weren’t thorough in their processes. Every day I’d explain to them we are holding ourselves to a higher standard than other studio businesses. Cleanliness, consistency and thoroughness are what people pay for when they come to Taylor Sound. If we don’t have that we have nothing. We’d be just another studio that barely gets by.
Some bosses enjoy criticizing employees. I hate it, but I will do it when it’s necessary. As a leader, you need to say what needs to be said, succinctly and directly. Your employees may have an emotional reaction. You can’t save them from that.
If I need to tell someone how to do something, I tell them how then I also tell them why. My studio, especially in the summer is like a hotel. We have bands who come in for a week, a day, sometimes just a few hours. Our job is to make sure the mint is always on top of the pillow.
Our bathrooms need to pass the “Christina Aguilera” test. Or more recently, the “Demi Lovato” test. We once hosted auditions for NBC’s The Voice and we had Demi Lovato’s band in the studio. If Christina Aguilera can happily pee in our bathroom, we have done our job.
Cleaning bathrooms is not glamorous, but neither is being in the music studio business. Facing that reality is critical. Humbling ourselves is integral to success.
One other thing — if you’re going to challenge someone you need to be willing to be challenged yourself. If you can’t walk the walk, no one will live up to your standards. Sometimes I clean the bathrooms myself to ensure it is done right. I set up the studios and mop the floors when no one else is available. If I don’t do it the way I want my employees to do it, I’m not walking the walk.
Which leads me to another recent insight about challenging others. You have to be willing to say you’re sorry if you get it wrong. No one is perfect. We all make mistakes, but when we do, we need to own it.
At Taylor Sound, we all have different jobs. I do marketing for the company. Some of my employees may clean the bathrooms. But we are all human just the same. We all deserve respect and dignity and I think that someone who cleans the bathroom deserves more respect than anyone! Part of giving respect is saying you’re sorry when you mess up.
I make a lot of mistakes, so I have to say sorry all the time. I’m late. I give the wrong directions. I lose my cool when it’s only my fault. But, most of the time, after a brief period of reflection, I can muster the ability to apologize and claim responsibility for my fallibility.
Clearing the air and communicating failures is critical to any business, personal or professional relationship. The faster you do it the faster you can move on. I think of any lingering miscommunication as an infected wound. You might be able to partially function with it, but you will never be fully functioning until you deal with it. It will flare up and ache when you aggravate it.
These little wounds tend to fester over time. They might even spread to other areas. People like to talk about their aches and pains. So, the other people in your employee’s or student’s lives will know about how “rude” or “unfair” you were. If you don’t take responsibility for your actions, everyone in that person’s world will know about it. Pain spreads like wildfire.
You can always take the easy way out and never challenge yourself or anyone else. You can be satisfied with where you are. If you figure out how to do that let me know because that would be awesome. But most of us aren’t entirely satisfied with standing still.
For now, I’m stuck pushing myself and the people around me to be better. It’s not easy and it gets messy, but I can’t move forward any other way. I’m never satisfied with my art, my business or even my hobbies. But as I push myself to grow, I’m getting a little closer to being satisfied.